'Always his own man': Australian poet Les Murray dies aged 80

Leslie Allan Murray, known as the Bush Bard of Bunyah, was Australia's unofficial Poet Laureate. Source: AAP

According to his publicist, the Bard of Bunyah died peacefully on Monday afternoon after being sick for some time.

Australian literature great Les Murray AO has died at the age of 80.

Murray - known as the Bard of Bunyah - died peacefully in Taree on NSW's mid-north coast on Monday afternoon, his publicist confirmed.

He had been sick for some time.

The prolific poet has published more than 30 volumes of work and is widely believed to be Australia's most well-known poet.

'A figure of immense integrity and intelligence'

"This afternoon we lost the poet Les Murray. We mourn his boundless creativity, as well as his original vision. His poetry created a vernacular republic for Australia, a place where our language is preserved and renewed," publishers Black Inc. said.

"On a personal note, we will cherish our dealings with him. Les was frequently hilarious and always his own man. He would talk with anyone, was endlessly curious and a figure of immense integrity and intelligence."

Murray was awarded an Order of Australia in 1989 for his contribution to Australian literature and later listed as one of Australia's 100 National Living Treasures. In 1999 he was awarded the Queens Gold Medal for Poetry.

During his career spanning close to 50 years, he has also won multiple literary awards, including the Grace Leven Prize in 1980 and 1990, the Petrarch Prize in 1995 and the T.S. Eliot Prize in 1996.

The Bush Bard of Bunyah

Mr Murray was born in Nabiac on the state's mid north coast and grew up on a hard scrabble dairy farm in Bunyah. His time in the Australian bush and Bunyah specifically featured prominently in his poetry.

His mother died from an ectopic pregnancy when he was 12.

Les Murray in 1999 received a gold medal for poetry at Buckingham Palace from Britain's Queen Elizabeth II.
Les Murray in 1999 received a gold medal for poetry at Buckingham Palace from Britain's Queen Elizabeth II.

According to The Steel, one of his angriest and most moving poems, her death may have been avoided if the local doctor hadn't initially refused to authorise an ambulance.

Despite an interrupted schooling, he made it to Sydney University where he didn't quite finish a degree. He dropped out for a time with a nervous breakdown. He hung out with other future writers like Geoffrey Lehmann and Clive James, wrote poetry and read voraciously.

A natural linguist

He was also a natural linguist, which enabled him to get a job as a translator at the Australian National University.

In 1962 he married Valerie Morelli, becoming a Catholic in the process. They had five children.

Mr Murray published his first book of poetry, which was a joint collection with Mr Lehmann, in 1965.

Les Murray published his first book of poetry in 1965.
Les Murray published his first book of poetry in 1965.

He took his family to Britain and Europe in 1967 for two years and on his return to Sydney finally completed his arts degree while having his first sole-authored collection, The Weatherboard Cathedral, published.

For the past 20 years, Murray had been the editor of conservative magazine Quadrant, only stepping down from the role last year.

Contributors to the magazine paid tribute to his literary work and mentorship when he stepped down, describing him as a "language wizard" and an inspiration.

Additional reporting: AAP

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